Snapshot: Stages and Entities Involved in the Afghan SIV Process

 

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@StateDept Designates Amb. Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

On March 12, 2021, the State Department announced the appointment of retired Ambassador Pamela Spratlen as Senior Advisor to the task force handling the agency’s response to the Havana Syndrome.
The Department has designated Ambassador Pamela Spratlen to serve as the Senior Advisor to the Health Incident Response Task Force (HIRTF), reporting directly to the Department’s senior leadership. Since its creation in 2018, the HIRTF has served as the coordinating body for the Department and interagency’s response to unexplained health incidents for personnel and dependents under Chief of Mission security responsibility, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members; investigation and risk mitigation; messaging; and diplomatic outreach.
A career member of the Foreign Service for nearly 30 years, Ambassador Spratlen was formerly Senior Advisor of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. State Department, Inspections Division. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2015-2018 and Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) from 2011-2014. She has also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (2009-2011).
In addition to numerous Washington assignments and a tour as Diplomat in Residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Ambassador Spratlen also served in Russia (Moscow and Vladivostok), France (U.S. Mission to the OECD) and Latin America (Guatemala and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States).
As Secretary Blinken said, “The selection of Ambassador Spratlen will help us make strides to address this issue wherever it affects Department personnel and their families. She will streamline our coordination efforts with the interagency community, and reaffirm our commitment to make certain that those affected receive the care and treatment they need.”
Members of the media who are interested in interviews with Ambassador Pamela Spratlen should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at GreenbergBL2@state.gov or 202-647-1679.GreenbergBL2@state.gov
During the DPB of March 12, a reporter pointed out that the announcement did not say anything about Cuba or any particular country where these issues may arise and asked, “Is that for a reason? Is it broader than that?” Below is the response of State Department spokesperson Ned Price:
“… To your first question, as we mentioned, we do have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. personnel, their families, and other U.S. citizens. Of course, these health incidents have been a priority for Secretary Blinken even before he was officially Secretary Blinken. He requested a comprehensive briefing on these incidents during the transition when he was secretary-designate. On his first day, full day here at the department, he received an update. He has since received comprehensive briefings.
He also wanted to ensure that the task force that has been established and working on these incidents since May of 2018 had connectivity directly to him, and directly to his senior leadership team. And so that is why we have decided, and he has decided to name Ambassador Spratlen as the senior advisor to the task force.
We didn’t specifically mention countries in that announcement because as you know, Matt, there have been now several countries where these incidents have been reported. We are seeking a full accounting of all of those who may have been affected by these incidents. That will be a large part of Ambassador Spratlen’s role, is to ensure that we know the full extent of these incidents.
There is also an individual on the task force who is responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents. So we will continue to pay close attention to this. Secretary Blinken will continue to pay close attention to this, because he has no higher priority than the health and the safety and security than the department and dependents of department personnel.”
We’d like to know who is the unnamed “individual on the task force responsible solely for engaging with those who may have been victims of these incidents.”  Has this person been there since 2018 or is this a new appointment?
We’ve also requested an opportunity to ask Ambassador Spratlen some questions about the Department’s response to the Havana Syndrome but we have yet to hear a response. We hope to have a separate update on this, that is,  if our email survive  Foggy Bottom’s email chewing doggo and get to Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg. 
Or if you know something and want to say something, reach out here.


 

 

 

Mystery Illness: “a much larger scale and widespread attack against our diplomatic corps, and our families”

Following the publication of ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge? and Oh ARB China, Where Art Thou?, we received the following in our inbox:
This is an interesting piece though it cites only 15 cases in China. I personally know of more cases involving people posted in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang. After the stories from Guangzhou broke, there was strong suppression by the Department in China. And yes, family members, including children, were victims of attacks.
This is a much larger scale and widespread attack against our diplomatic corps, and our families, than is being acknowledged and reported. If I hadn’t been so naive about the department’s willingness to take care of those injured and push to stop the attacks, I would have better documented all of the information I was coming across.
Please know that there are many more, in cities across China, that were attacked.
We asked a separate source who was acutely familiar of these attacks and he/she confirmed that there were attacks beyond Guangzhou in China and that there was suppression of information about the attacks in China by the State Department.
Also, what if Patient Zero in Havana, a CIA employee widely accepted to have been injured in December 2016 was not the  first attack?
What if an individual who served at an affected country had a mystery illness much earlier that doctors could not figure out?
There is a story there.
And what about foreign nationals injured in these attacks? This separate source told us:
“State knows that foreign nationals have been affected but has covered this up….There were certainly Chinese nationals injured in China and certain career officials at State know this very well and have gone to great lengths to cover up and suppress this.”
There are stories that still need to be told.
It would be so wrong and disgraceful to allow individuals to deal with this illness on their own.
On February 24, CNN reported that the CIA has set up its first-ever task force to focus on suspected microwave attacks on intelligence officers and diplomats:
“Sources familiar with the ongoing investigations out of the separate US agencies — including the CIA, the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the State Department — say that a major impediment to their efficacy is the fact that they are largely siloed efforts. Interagency coordination has been limited, in part due to the highly classified nature of some details and the privacy restrictions of health records, and that has hampered progress.
It is not clear if the Biden administration will bring the multiple investigations of these suspected microwave attacks under one roof, but officials at the National Security Council are discussing that possibility, two sources familiar with the discussions told CNN. “
Our government needs to get rid of the darn silos. It needs a real inter-agency investigation to get a full accounting of what happened. They also need to expand their timeline to 6-12 months earlier than the first reported incidents, and include any mystery illness reported by employees across the globe.
Just as important as learning about what happened, and about the government’s response  — how will our people be protected against the next attacks?

 


 

 

ARB on Havana Syndrome Response: Pray Tell, Who Was in Charge?

On February 10, 2021, the GWU’s National Security Archive published the report of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Havana, Cuba dated June 2018. The ARB document was classified SECRET/NOFORN with declassification date of June 7, 2043. It was released via a Freedom of Information Act request. 
The report includes a timeline from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere compiled at the request of the Cuba Accountability Review Board.  We are working on merging that timeline with the personnel churn that occurred around the same time at the State Department. We should also note that the report includes other attachments like an unclassified 2-page Memorandum dated, April 11, 2018 from Deputy Legal Adviser Joshua L. Dorosin to ARB Chair Ambassador Peter Bodde entitled, “ARB Questions Related to the Exercise of M Authorities from January 21, 2017 to present. This memorandum was redacted under B(5). A 2-page document labeled (SBU) Department of State’s High Treat High Risk Post Review Process effective, January 2, 2018 was released with the ARB report but also redacted under B7(F)
Take aways from the ARB-Cuba Report:
—. ARB

The Cuba Accountability Review Board was convened on February 8, 2018, some thirteen months after individuals first visited Embassy Havana’s MED unit reporting of various symptoms including headache, ear pain, dizziness, and hearing problems in late December 2016. The ARB report is an interim response/findings. The ARB says, “a final review should be undertaken.” (Also see Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba)

—. WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

According to the ARB, the last Havana incidents resulting in medically confirmed injury took place at the end of August 2017. As of June 2018, the date of the report, the ARB writes “We do know that USG and Canadian diplomatic community members were injured, but we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.”

—. CLOSE IT AND FORGET IT?

According to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s (WHA) timeline, Secretary Tillerson ordered the Departure of Non-Emergency Personnel from Havana on September 29, 2017. OD can be initiated by chief of mission or the Secretary of State. But. According to the ARB, “the decision to draw down the staff in Havana does not appear to have followed standard Department of State procedures and was neither preceded nor followed by any formal analysis of the risks and benefits of continued physical presence of U.S. government employees in Havana. After six months of ordered departure, Havana was designated an unaccompanied post in March 2018.” (Also see US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”).

(Can we revisit this for another blogpost? Reach out if you have some thoughts about our continuing presence in Havana).

The ARB adds, “Neither the Department’s High Threat High Risk Post Review (HTHR) Process nor the former Vital Presence Validation (VP2) Process were enacted.” No risk benefit analysis has been done for Cuba as of June 7, 2018. “Many Department leaders interviewed by the Board, no one could explain why this has not happened, except to suggest that [REDACTED].

—. LACK OF SENIOR LEADERSHIP AND ALL THAT

“The Department of State’s response to these incidents was characterized by a lack of senior leadership, ineffective communication, and systemic disorganization. No senior official was ever designated as having overall responsibility, which resulted in many of the other issues this reports presents. The interagency response was stove-piped and largely ad hoc. In our report, the Board makes recommendations on accountability, interagency coordination, communication and information sharing, medical issues, risk benefit calculations, and security operations.”

—. SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES

“For the period after February 15, 2017, the Board found serious deficiencies in the Department’s response in areas of accountability, interagency coordination, and communication, at all levels, both at Post and in Washington. These deficiencies contributed to the confusion surrounding the events, and delayed effective, coordinated action. The Board finds the lack of a designated official at the Under Secretary level to manage the response to be the single most significant deficiency in the Department’s response.

—. NO ONE IN CHAAAARGE, WHHHHY?

The ARB report says, “To this day no senior official at the Department has been assigned responsibility for leading and coordinating efforts to assess past incidents and prevent/mitigate future events. No Department of State task force was formed. There was no interagency working group [REDACTED].” Nor was a dedicated, internal State Department group was created.

—. EMERGENCY ACTION COMMITTEE (EAC)

The WHA Timeline indicates that Embassy Havana held an Emergency Action Committee (EAC) meeting (17 HAVANA31) on April 3, 2017 to assess the threat and holds an all hands meeting for cleared Americans. First Post EAC Meeting conducted more than 4 months after individuals believed they were first impacted. Wait, and it was over 6 weeks after officials at Post and in Washington had the first (unverified) information of injury?

The ARB says that “The Emergency Action Committee (EAC), an Embassy Front Office responsibility, is an essential element of security policy infrastructure REDACTED.” Still, “once the EAC cable was received, the Department’s response tempo increased, although in a stove-piped and inadequately coordinated manner in the absence of an Under Secretary for Management or a designated responsible Department official.”

—. FIRST BRIEFING DELAY AND EXCLUSION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

The ARB report says, “The Board finds the delay of almost six weeks between first knowledge of injury and the first briefing of Embassy staff to be unfortunate and the exclusion of family members from this knowledge to be unjustified, given the incidents were taking place at residences. According to the WHA timeline, on April 17, 2017, Embassy Havana held its first meeting with Embassy spouses [REDACTED].

–. UGH! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, PEOPLE?

That Eligible Family Members, occasionally known as “just spouses” have no need to know anything that may turn their brains to mush?

-—. DOMESTIC MEDEVAC AUTHORITY, WHO DIS?

The ARB report says that “The lack of standing authority for the Department of State Medical Director to approve medical evacuations between domestic locations when required added additional steps and bureaucratic time requirements to the medevac process.” It also says that “To accomplish these medevacs the Medical Director was required to request special authority which was then granted specific only to the Cuba events. In the future when another event occurs which requires domestic medevacs State MED will need to repeat the same administrative process specific to that event.”

Required by whom? Request special authority from where?
—. DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY FIASCO.
In July 2017, this was posted on the blog: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom. Yep, remember that? Also Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept
Now, we’re reading about that decision in the ARB report: 

“The July 2017 decision rescinding many delegated State Department authorities by the then-Secretary of State, followed by the limited and poorly documented re-delegation of some of those authorities created widespread confusion about authorities. It resulted in understandable concern and hesitation on the part of persons in acting positions who feared exceeding their authorities.”

“Vacant senior positions and lack of clarity regarding delegated authorities delayed an effective response.”

“Individuals filling Under Secretary and Assistant Secretary Positions in an acting capacity during an extraordinarily prolonged transition were hampered by the rescinding of delegated authorities and the ensuing confusion regarding those authorities that were eventually re­-delegated.”

—. NSDD-38 PROCESS

One of ARB-Cuba’s recommendations says that “The Department should convene a high level review of the NSDD-38 process as it is currently implemented. Following the review, the Department should issue guidance to all employees and agencies regarding requirements and should hold agencies accountable.. In another recommendation, it says “The Department should ensure that the NSDD-38 processes are followed [REDACTED]”

Per 6 FAH-5 H-350, the National Security Decision Directive–38 (NSDD-38) process is the mechanism by which a COM exercises his or her authority to determine the size, composition, and mandate of U.S. Government executive branch agencies at his or her mission.

— WAITING FOR THE TICK TOCK

The ARB report says that “Given that this is an unprecedented event, it would be helpful to have an accurate record of what was done, by whom, when, and why. In order to learn the right lessons from this incident, it is essential to have an accurate written record.” 

Also that “WHA and S staff should create a timeline (tick tock) of communication, decisions, and actions taken to date (June 7, 2018) in response to the incidents. The investigation into the incidents and Department’s response should remain open until the Department determines what happened. This timeline is a critical part of the discussion and lessons-learned process.” 

—. CHIEF OF MISSION

The ARB report reveals: “In exploring the guidance given to the COM regarding his responsibility for the security of all executive branch employees, the Board learned the COM did not have a letter of instruction. Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed ambassadors all receive a letter of instruction from the President detailing their responsibilities. Typically the responsibility for the safety and security of American citizens and U.S. government employees features prominently in these letters. In other posts where a COM is not Senate confirmed, the Department sometimes issues a letter of instruction from the Secretary of State which serves a similar purpose.”

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s top notch advisers did not know enough to advise the issuance of the letter of instruction?
—. BUREAU DE-FACTO LEADERSHIP

The ARB report says, “The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs was frequently cited by those interviewed as the “de facto” lead bureau within the State Department. WHA leaders attempted to fill some of the gap created by the lengthy vacancies at the Under Secretary level, and convened a number of meetings for the purpose of sharing information. They were largely unsuccessful at actual coordination, in part because they did not have the authority to direct action on the part of other bureaus. They were almost invariably in a reactive mode and never put forward a cohesive plan of action for the future. They were also hampered by their very limited access to the senior leadership of the Department.”

—. EXCESSIVE SECRECY!

Ah, the ARB report says that “Both at Post and in Washington, response to the incidents was characterized by excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response.”

Also that “WHA’s reliance on informal consultation with the Department’s leadership made it difficult for the Board to develop an accurate picture of decision making regarding the incident.”

The report says, “Informal communication between WHA and the senior leadership of the State Department contributed to the lack of coherence in the response. Normal Department reporting channels and methods were routinely disregarded in the response to the Cuba incidents. WHA officials were instructed to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials. As a result, accountability was never clearly established and there was no coordination within the Department. The most frequent communication with the senior leadership was to the Secretary of State’s chief of staff via email. Contemporaneous documentation of these interactions is scant.”

Now, don’t we all want to know who kept this very, very quiet? Why would WHA rely on “informal consultations”?  Who gave instruction to WHA to limit distribution of information to a select group of officials? State.gov emails are government records. How is it that the ARB had no access to the most frequent communication on this matter with senior leadership at State? What about Tillerson’s chief of staff’s emails? Wait, are these state.gov emails? Why are contemporaneous documentation of these interactions scant? What happened to memcons? Were there instructions not to put anything about these interactions in writing? If so, who gave those instructions? Who were the officials who downplayed these attacks?  Curious minds would like to know. 

 


 

 

 

Report: Covid19-Infected Amcits From #DiamondPrincess Flown Home Against CDC Advice

 

Via WaPo, February 20, 2020:

In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers.
[…]
The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.
[…]

During one call, the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, argued against taking the infected Americans on the plane, according to two participants. She noted the U.S. government had already told passengers they would not be evacuated with anyone who was infected or who showed symptoms. She was also concerned about infection control.

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was also on the calls, recalled saying her points were valid and should be considered.

But Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the coronavirus task force, pushed back: Officials had already prepared the plane to handle passengers who might develop symptoms on the long flight, he argued. The two Boeing 747s had 18 seats cordoned off with 10-foot-high plastic on all four sides. Infectious disease doctors would also be onboard.

“We felt like we had very experienced hands in evaluating and caring for these patients,” Kadlec said at a news briefing Monday.

The State Department made the call. The 14 people were already in the evacuation pipeline and protocol dictated they be brought home, said William Walters, director of operational medicine for the State Department.

As the State Department drafted its news release, the CDC’s top officials insisted that any mention of the agency be removed.

Read the full report below.
Anyone know if the State Department has a Task Force for Covid-19 already? It looks like U.S. citizens in Hubei Province or those with information about U.S. citizens in Hubei are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or the State Department at the same email address: CoronaVirusEmergencyUSC@state.gov.
Excerpt from State Dept Special Briefing on Repatriation ofo U.S. Citizens from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, February 17, 2020:

OPERATOR: The line of Alex Horton from Washington Post has been opened. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks, everyone, for jumping on this call on a holiday. So I was curious about when discussion with the CDC was executed to make this call. Based on their press release a few days ago, they said there would be screening to prevent symptomatic travelers from departing Japan. The press release you guys issued is very carefully worded when you said, “After consulting HHS, the State Department made the decision to allow those individuals to go on,” those 14.

So is there daylight with CDC and HHS in this decision by you guys to send them forward, and what were some of their objections that you – that you seem to have overturned?

DR WALTERS: This is Dr. Walters. What I’d say is that the chief of mission, right, through the U.S. embassy, is ultimately the head of all executive branch activities. So when we are very careful about taking responsibility for the decision, the State Department is – that is the embassy. The State Department was running the aviation mission, and the decision to put the people into that isolation area initially to provide some time for discussion and for onward, afterwards, is a State Department decision.

There is a – I think where you might see the appearance of a discrepancy is in the definition of symptomatic. Symptomatic – when we use the word “symptomatic,” we’re talking about coughing and sneezing and fever and body aches. Those are symptoms, all right? And as Dr. Kadlec laid out and I reinforced, each one of these 338 [4] people was evaluated by an experienced medical provider, and none of them had symptoms.

Once they were on the bus, we received information about a lab test that had been done two or three days earlier. But it is, in fact – it is a fact that no symptomatic patients – no one with a fever or a cough or lower respiratory tract infection or body aches, or anything that would lead one to believe this person is infected with the virus was – none of that was in place before – at the time a decision was made to evacuate these folks.

 

@StateDept Evacuation Flights From China Heads to Military Bases in CA, CO, TX For 14-Day Quarantine

 

The State Department issued a health alert on February 4 indicating that it “may be staging additional evacuation flights with capacity for private U.S. citizens on a reimbursable basis, leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on February 6, 2020. The alert notes that evacuees from Hubei Province will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

“In accordance with the Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus, beginning at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, February 2, the United States government will implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus proactively and aggressively.  Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.” 

Military bases in California, Colorado and Texas are currently preparing to accommodate up to 1,000 people who will be quarantined upon arrival. U.S. Northern Command announced that it is expecting 350 inbound passengers in the “initial flights” destined for Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, both in California.
Also see Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

 

US Embassy Nassau: #HurricaneDorian 🌀 Aftermath, @USAID/OFDA, @USCGSoutheast

 

This is a follow-up to our post on August 31, US Embassy Bahamas on ‘Ordered Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #HurricaneDorian.  The NOAA Hurricane Update of 1100 PM EDT Mon Sep 02 2019 notes that devastating hurricane conditions continue on Grand Bahama Island and that a life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds on Grand Bahama Island.

USAID/OFDA announced on Twitter that a team of Caribbean-based disaster experts is in the Bahamas to work w/ national authorities & humanitarian partners to help assess impacts & humanitarian needs.

The US Coast Guard Southeast said that its Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews, forward deployed to Andros Island, medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to Nassau International Airport on Monday, September 2. 

@StateDept Appoints Ex-Pompeo Chief of Staff as Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources

 

Secretary Pompeo recently informed State Department employees that they just swore in a new Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, Jim Richardson. “Most recently, Jim served as the Assistant to the Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the Coordinator of USAID’s Transformation Task Team. In his new role, he’ll guide the F Bureau in helping both the State Department and USAID connect the resources to our foreign policy objectives.”
Mr. Richardson succeeds Eric M. Ueland who was appointed as F Director in October 1, 2018 but has since been appointed to the WH as head of legislative affairs.  Mr. Ueland is however, still listed as F Director on state.gov.
While Pompeo did not mention that Richardson was his former chief of staff when he served in the Congress, the state.gov bio did mention the work he did for the former congressman:

James “Jim” Richardson is the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources at the U.S. Department of State, where he coordinates the allocation of more than $35 billion in foreign assistance resources.

Previously, Jim served as Assistant to the Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) and Coordinator of USAID’s Transformation Task Team, where he led the Agency’s historic reorganization to reshape the Agency around the principle of ‘Ending the Need for Foreign Assistance’.

Jim has nearly 20 years of government experience. Prior to joining the Trump Administration, he was Chief of Staff for then-Congressman Mike Pompeo (KS-04)—overseeing Pompeo’s offices in Washington, DC and in Wichita, Kansas, as well as the campaign organization.

Throughout his years in Washington, Jim spearheaded numerous complex operations and developed an extensive background in public policy and the legislative process. Prior to leading Congressman Pompeo’s staff, Jim worked with the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for Congressman Todd Tiahrt (KS-04), the House Armed Services Committee for Congressman Jim Ryun (KS-02), and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO). He started his government career with Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO).

Jim holds a Bachelors of Science in Government from Evangel University and a Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies from Missouri State University. He is also a graduate of the United States Air Force Air Command and Staff College (ACSC).

 

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GAO to @StateDept: Psst! Leadership Attention and Focus, Please!

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report  on Tillerson’s redesign projects (although those projects were no longer called that).  GAO looked into the status of the reform efforts that the State Department reported to Congress in February 2018 and also looked at the extent to which State addressed key practices critical to the successful implementation of agency reform efforts.
GAO has determined that “State leadership has not provided the focus necessary to support the officials responsible for implementing all these reform projects.”
Uh-oh! Some excerpts below.

Remember the Listening Tour?

In response to the March 2017 Executive Order 13781 and the ensuing OMB memo, State launched a “listening tour” intended to gather ideas and feedback from State and USAID employees. As a key component of this outreach effort, State hired a contractor to design and administer a confidential online survey, which was sent to all State and USAID employees in May 2017. According to the contractor’s report, the survey had a 43 percent response rate, with 27,837 State employees and 6,142 USAID employees responding to the survey. The contractor also conducted in-person interviews with a randomly selected cross section of personnel, which included 175 employees from State and 94 from USAID.

17 Reform Projects Plus

The planning teams developed specific reform projects, listed below in table 2 (17 reform projects, see page7-8 of report), which State described in the fiscal year 2019 budget justification it submitted to Congress in February 2018.9  According to implementing officials, all these projects predated the Executive Order and OMB memo issued in the spring of 2017. They also noted, however, that the administration’s reform-related directives helped advance State’s preexisting efforts by focusing management attention and agency resources on these projects.  (9 In addition to these reform projects, State’s Congressional Budget Justification also reported seven changes related to its reform efforts that are complete or underway. State reported that it is (1) expanding employment opportunities for eligible family members; (2) implementing cloud-based email and collaboration; (3) increasing flexibilities for employees on medical evacuations; (4) streamlining the security clearance process; (5) simplifying the permanent change-of-station travel process; (6) improving temporary duty travel options and experience; and (7) integrating USAID and State global address lists.

Status: Completed-1, Continuing-13, Stalled-2, Discontinued-1

As of April 2019, according to State officials and status reports, State had completed one of its 17 reform projects; 13 projects were continuing; two projects were stalled pending future decisions or actions; and one project was discontinued.
[…]
According to State officials, as of April 2019, although 13 of the reform projects described in the fiscal year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification were considered by State to be continuing, some had been scaled back, slowed down, or both as a result of senior leadership’s shifting priorities and attention.

Leadership Focus and Attention

In February 2018, State reported to  Congress in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification that it was pursuing the reform projects we described above. In March 2018, the first transition affecting the implementation of those projects occurred when the President removed the then Secretary of State and nominated the then CIA director to replace him; in April 2018, the Senate confirmed the current Secretary. According to senior State officials, when the new Secretary took office, his top priority was ending the hiring freeze and restarting a concerted recruitment effort because vacancies in key positions and a general staffing shortfall would otherwise have led to what one senior official described as a “cataclysmic failure” at State. These senior officials noted that the new Secretary decided some of the existing reform projects were not well designed and that he wanted greater emphasis on cybersecurity and data analytics. They said he also wanted to pursue other initiatives, including a new proposal to create a Global Public Affairs Bureau by merging two existing bureaus. The senior officials told us that the Secretary authorized responsible bureaus and offices to determine whether to continue, revise, or terminate existing reform efforts or launch new initiatives. However, State did not formally communicate other changes in its reform priorities to Congress, such as its plan to no longer combine State and USAID’s real property offices.
[…]
State initiated another transition in leadership of the reform efforts in April 2018 when it disbanded the dedicated planning teams overseeing the reform efforts and delegated responsibility for implementing the reform projects to relevant bureaus and offices. As the planning teams finished working on their particular reform efforts and prepared to transfer these projects to the bureaus, some planning teams provided memos and reports on the status of their efforts and offered recommendations for the bureaus to consider when determining next steps in implementing the projects. Some implementing officials, however, reported that they received little or no direction regarding their projects or any other indication of continued interest in their project from department or bureau leadership aside from the initial notification that the project had been assigned to them.
[…]
Various State officials noted that the prolonged absence of Senate confirmed leadership in key positions posed additional challenges. We have previously testified that it is more difficult to obtain buy-in on longterm plans and efforts that are underway when an agency has leaders in acting positions because federal employees are historically skeptical of whether the latest efforts to make improvements are going to be sustained over a period of time

Leadership Transition Effects:

Taken together, the leadership transitions at State had two significant effects on State’s reform efforts. First, the transition of departmental leadership and lack of direction and communication about subsequent changes in leadership’s priorities contributed to uncertainty among implementing officials about the future of individual reform projects. Second, according to implementing officials, the transition of project responsibility from dedicated teams to bureau-level implementing officials resulted in fewer resources and a lack of senior leadership involvement and attention for some projects. Absent leadership decisions, implementing officials will continue to struggle with understanding leadership priorities with regard to State’s reform efforts. Similarly, for any projects that are determined to be leadership priorities, day-to-day implementation activities will continue to be hampered by the lack of a dedicated team to guide and manage the agency’s overall reform effort.

Don’t Forget USAID: Continuing Projects? Where? What?
GAO has not made any recommendations to USAID and yet, the agency has submitted a written response to highlight the State Department’s unwillingness to coordinate with them. What’s this about? (see Appendix III-Comments from the U.S. Agency for International Development – PDF/page25-26):

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@StateDept FOIA: Trump’s January 2017 EO: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States

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On January 27, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order that suspends the entry of refugees to the United States for 120 days and deny entry/issuance of visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen]. See Trump EO: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, 1.27.2017

Below is a collection of documents from the State Department via Jason Leopold’s FOIA efforts. The documents illustrate the actions and confusion following the issuance of the Executive Order. In a normal administration where the motto is not “chaos everyday”, this EO would have gone through an internal process where overseas posts learn beforehand about the new policy, how it is interpreted for operational purposes, and are provided guidance on how to address the more complicated cases, and exceptions. In this case, the EO was released and overseas posts had no answers to relevant operational questions. The agreed guidance between DHS and State did not go out until January 30, 2017. Meanwhile, US Embassy Baghdad had to deal with the EO fallout from the Iraqi government and shocked Kurdish partners.

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